vendredi 8 mai 2020

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 4, 2020

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

May 8, 2020

The week of May 4, research activities performed on the International Space Station included preparations for demonstration of small satellite and free-flying robot technology and research into providing crew members with nutritious and appealing food. The current three-member crew includes NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. Operating with only one U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) crew member means less time available for science activities in microgravity, but research continues thanks to careful planning and increased automation.

Image above: A previous Cygnus cargo craft in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm just prior to its release from the space station, showing the Common Berthing Mechanism containing Slingshot, which deploys CubeSats once Cygnus reaches a safe distance from the station. Image Credit: NASA.

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space. Experience gained on the orbiting lab supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:

Small satellites sling into space

During the week, crew members prepared Slingshot for operations following the Cygnus departure from the space station, scheduled for Monday, May 11. Slingshot is a small satellite deployment system that fits inside the cargo craft’s Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (PCBM) and can accommodate up to 18 satellites. When Cygnus undocks, it maneuvers approximately 30 to 60 miles above the space station and deploys the satellites. One of those to be deployed, SEOPS-UbiquitiLink, demonstrates two-way connectivity with low-power devices on Earth. This technology could serve as the backbone for future commercial communication services.

Image above: Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin (left) and Ivan Vagner practice cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during an emergency training session. Crew members and ground teams regularly train for a variety of emergency scenarios in order to remain familiar with medical hardware, safety gear and evacuation paths on the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Improving the space menu

Space food has come a long way, but the menu aboard the space station has yet to earn four stars. Astronauts who get bored with limited and repetitive choices may eat less and lose weight or develop other health problems. Food Acceptability examines the effect of this “menu fatigue” in order to help develop a better food selection for spaceflight. During the week, crew members filled out questionnaires providing feedback about their food and beverage selections.

Students drive robots in space

Astrobee tests three self-contained, free-flying robots designed to assist astronauts with routine chores, give ground controllers additional eyes and ears and perform crew monitoring, sampling and logistics management. The Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (Robo-Pro Challenge) lets students create programs to control the Astrobees, providing hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering and mathematics in space. It involves cooperation between Japan and the U.S. through the Japan-US Open platform Partnership Program (JP-US OP3). During the week, the crew charged the robot batteries in preparation for Challenge activities coming up in the next few weeks.

Image above: This image from the International Space Station shows the northern central portion of Morocco, a mountainous region bordering the Sahara Desert in northwest Africa. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- ActiWatch is a wrist device worn by crew members that contains an accelerometer to measure motion and a detector to monitor ambient lighting. The device analyzes circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns and activity.

- Radi-N2, a Canadian Space Agency investigation, uses bubble detectors to better characterize the neutron environment on the space station, which could help define the risk this radiation source poses to crew members and provide data necessary to develop advanced protective measures for future spaceflight.

- Thermal Amine Scrubber tests using actively heated and cooled amine beds to remove carbon dioxide from air in the space station. Controlling carbon dioxide levels reduces the likelihood of crew members experiencing symptoms of buildup, including fatigue, headache, breathing difficulties, strained eyes and itchy skin.

Space to Ground: SLIME IN SPACE!!!: 05/08/2020

Related links:

Expedition 63:



Food Acceptability:


Robo-Pro Challenge:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 63.


Cygnus Ready for Science After Departure, Commander Takes Break

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

May 8, 2020

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship is packed for departure on Monday and will continue more science before its ultimate demise at the end of May. Meanwhile, two Expedition 63 Flight Engineers are maintaining International Space Station operations as the Commander takes a break today.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy is relaxing today ahead of this weekend’s activities to ready a U.S. space freighter for its robotic release on Monday at noon EDT. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the cargo ship’s release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm beginning at 11:45 a.m.

Image above: The wispy atmospheric layer of the air glow crowns the Earth’s horizon in this nighttime photograph from the International Space Station as it orbited over the South Atlantic Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

The space veteran spent the week loading up the Cygnus space freighter with trash and preparing it for more science. Shortly after its departure, a controlled fire will be lit inside Cygnus for ongoing research into space fire safety. Next, tiny space research satellites, also known as CubeSats,  will be deployed outside the vehicle to improve space communications and GPS mapping technology.

Robotics controllers also attached the popular, but now-defunct HDEV (High Definition Earth Viewing) experiment on the outside of Cygnus for disposal. HDEV reached its end-of-life last year after five years in service providing live views of Earth to over 300 million viewers. The U.S. cargo craft will reenter Earth’s atmosphere at the end of the month for a fiery, but safe disposal above the South Pacific.

Cygnus cargo release. Animation Credit: ESA

Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner started Friday studying how the heart adapts to a specialized suit that reverses the pooling of blood and water in a crewmember’s head caused by microgravity. They also took turns with an ongoing study that seeks to improve the detection and location of Earth landmarks for photography.

Ivanishin, a veteran of two previous station missions, then updated station inventory with the new cargo recently delivered aboard the Progress 75 cargo ship. Vagner, a first-time space flyer, collected radiation measurements and inspected the Zvezda service module’s windows.

Related articles:

Crew Preps for U.S. and Japanese Cargo Missions

NASA TV to Air Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Departure from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 63:


Cygnus space freighter:

Space fire safety:

Heart adapts:

Specialized suit:

Detection and location:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

Listen to the sounds of BepiColombo's Earth flyby

ESA & JAXA - BepiColombo Mission patch.

May 8, 2020

Approaching Earth: Sound of BepiColombo Earth flyby

Listen to the sound of BepiColombo's Earth flyby as captured in five recordings taken by two instruments aboard the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, one of the two orbiters comprising the joint European/Japanese Mercury exploration mission.

BepiColombo flyby

The BepiColombo flyby on 10 April 2020 was the first of overall nine gravity-assist manoeuvres that tighten the spacecraft's trajectory around the Sun as it closes in on its destination orbit around the smallest and least explored planet of the Solar System.

Approaching Earth: Italian Spring Accelerometer
Approaching Earth: Sound of BepiColombo Earth flyby

A sonification of data recorded by the Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) aboard the BepiColombo spacecraft as it neared Earth ahead of the April 2020 flyby. The data in the recording were obtained as the spacecraft approached the planet from the distance of 256 393 km to 129 488 km. Eight Hours of measurements are condensed into a minute of audio. The original frequency of the dataset, inaudible to humans, had to be enhanced by the team from Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in order to create the audio track.

Earth within reach: Italian Spring Accelerometer
Earth within reach: Sound of BepiColombo Earth flyby

Data used to create this sonification were obtained by the Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument as BepiColombo approached the planet’s surface from the distance of 27 844 km to 13 107 km. The closest point of the flyby, which enabled BepiColombo to harness Earth’s gravity to tighten its trajectory around the Sun, was at the distance of 12 689 km from the planet’s surface. The original frequency of the dataset, inaudible to humans, had to be enhanced by the team from Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in order to create the audio track. The data was condensed so that one hour of measurements would equal about a minute of audio.

In Earth’s shadow: Italian Spring Accelerometer
In Earth’s shadow: Sound of BepiColombo Earth flyby

ISA data in this sonification capture the 34-minute period of BepiColombo's April 2020 Earth flyby when the spacecraft flew through the Earth's shadow with no direct view of the Sun. The spacecraft had already passed its closest approach when it entered the shadow. The recording starts at the distance of 13 460 km away from the Earth’s surface. The spacecraft subsequently enters eclipse at the distance of 16 496 km, which can be heard in the recording, and exits it at 24 861 km. The recording ends when the spacecraft reaches the distance of 31 785 km.

The sound of Earth’s magnetic field - MPO magnetometer
The sound of Earth’s magnetic field by BepiColombo

The audio is a sonification of data captured by the MPO-MAG instrument as BepiColombo flew through Earth's magnetosphere. The spacecraft encountered the so-called bow shock at the outer edge of the magnetosphere where the Earth’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind. It then passed through the magnetosheath, a turbulent region still considerably affected by the cosmic plasma, and crossed the magnetopause, the boundary after which the magnetic field of Earth dominates. The audio compresses 8 hours of recorded data into a 26-second audio track.

Sound of Earth magnetic field with flywheels - MPO magnetometer
The sound of BepiColombo's Earth flyby

This audio is based on the same dataset as the previous sonification. In this case, however, the sound of BepiColombo’s reaction wheels, which keep the spacecraft oriented in the correct direction, has not been filtered out and can be clearly audible especially after the spacecraft passes the turbulent region.

Related links:


Space Science:

Image, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/BepiColombo/ISA/ASI-INAF/MPO-MAG/IGEP-IWF-IC-ISAS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards,

Astronaut urine for building a Moon base

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

May 8, 2020

Strength comparison for lunar concrete

From human waste to superplasticiser, astronaut urine could become a useful resource for making a robust type of concrete on the Moon.

A recent European study sponsored by ESA showed that urea, the main organic compound found in our urine, would make the mixture for lunar concrete more malleable before hardening into a final, sturdy shape for future lunar habitats.

Researchers found that adding urea to the lunar geopolymer mixture, a construction material similar to concrete, worked better than other common plasticisers, such as naphthalene or polycarboxylate to reduce the need for water.

3D printing concrete from urea and lunar dust simulant

The mix coming out of a 3D printer proved to be stronger and retained a good workability – a fresh sample could be easily moulded and retained its shape with weights up to 10 times its own on top of it.

“The science community is particularly impressed by the high strength of this new recipe compared to other materials, but also attracted by the fact that we could use what’s already on the Moon,” says Marlies Arnhof, initiator and co-author of the study from ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team.

Using only materials available on site – an approach known in the space arena as In-Situ Resource Utilisation, or ISRU – will reduce the need of launching huge volumes of supplies from Earth to build on the Moon.

The main ingredient would be a powdery soil found everywhere on the surface of the Moon, known as lunar regolith. The superplasticiser urea limits the amount of water necessary in the recipe.

Lunar soil simulant

Thanks to future lunar inhabitants, the 1.5 litres of liquid waste a person generates each day could become a promising by-product for space exploration.

“Urea is cheap and readily available, but also helps making strong construction material for a Moon base,” points out Marlies.

Why urea?

After water, urea is the most abundant component of human urine. Urea can break hydrogen bonds and reduce the viscosities of fluid mixtures. Urine also contains calcium minerals that help the curing process. 

Urea mix sample

On Earth, urea is produced on an industrial scale and widely used as an industrial fertiliser and a raw material by chemical and medical companies.

“The hope is that astronaut urine could be essentially used as it is on a future lunar base, with minor adjustments to the water content. This is very practical, and avoids the need to further complicate the sophisticated water recycling systems in space,” explains Marlies.

Bring it into the mix

Several tests confirmed that this type of concrete mixed with urea was capable of withstanding harsh space conditions such as vacuum and extreme temperatures. These two factors have the biggest effect on the physical and mechanical properties of construction material for the lunar surface.

Malleable urea for lunar concrete

All samples were subjected to vacuum and freeze-thaw cycles to simulate the sharp temperature changes throughout lunar days and nights, which might vary from -171°C to 114°C. The samples withstood temperatures ranging from 114°C to -80°C as a good indication of how the material would behave under even lower temperatures.

Community building

A close collaboration between ESA researchers in the Netherlands and universities in Norway, Spain and Italy under the Ariadna initiative “allowed us to look into such an exploratory, somewhat risky idea that can bring valuable results not only for space exploration, but also for technology applications on Earth,” explains out Marlies.

“Industry could benefit from refined recipes for fire and heat resistant inorganic polymers suitable for additive manufacturing,” she adds.

Lunar base made with 3D printing

One of the hot topics the team wants to tackle next is how basalt fibres from the Moon could reinforce the concrete and how the material could be best used to shield a lunar colony. Researchers hope that this new urea-based mortar could help protect future astronauts from harmful levels of ionising radiation.

Related links:

European study sponsored by ESA:

Lunar concrete:

ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team:

Ariadna initiative:

Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/S. Pilehvar/Foster + Partners.


Space age for metals, foams and the living

ISS - International Space Station logo.

May 8, 2020

Hands on the Combustion Integrated Rack

Astronauts donned gloves on the International Space Station to kick off two European experiments on metals and foams, while preparing spacesuits for future work outside their home in space.

The new crew, NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, has completed three full weeks of their 195-day mission. They have more space for themselves than the typical crew of six, but not much time to spare.

New metallurgy

Most metals used today are mixtures – alloys – of different metals, combining properties to make new materials. Alloys are everywhere now, from your smartphone to aircraft.

Microscopic metal

Scientists want to improve their understanding of melting-solidification processes in alloys, and they are taking organic compounds to the Space Station as analogues to experiment with. Microgravity allowed the Transparent Alloys experiment to observe their formation unaffected by convection at microscopic resolution.

Before the new crew arrived, former inhabitant Andrew Morgan handled the samples using the European Microgravity Science Glovebox, a device that allows them to carry out experiments in a sealed and controlled environment, isolated from the rest of the International Space Station.

Foams in orbit

Foam-Coarsening experiment

The behaviour of foams was also in the spotlight. The Foam-Coarsening experiment started the science campaign to better understand how bubbles evolve in microgravity. In space, foams are quite stable because there is no drainage in weightlessness. This allows scientists to study the slower phenomena of a bubble becoming bigger and bursting.

Three sample cells filled with liquid were stored inside the Fluid Science Laboratory in the European Columbus module. After some shaking by pistons inside the cells, laser optics and high-resolution cameras could record the birth evolution of the foam.

The results from this research will not just apply to the foam in your morning cappuccino. Foams are used in a wide range of areas from food to cleaning and sealing products, and even construction.

Bones and muscles

Samantha Cristoforetti exercises to fight bone loss in space

On average astronauts in space lose 1% bone density a month due to living in weightlessness. Studying what happens during long stays in space offers a good insight into osteoporosis.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner ran their first sessions of European experiment EDOS-2 to help scientists understand the effects of spaceflight on bone, and how it recovers after returning to Earth.

A better understanding of bone loss and its recovery is crucial not only for astronauts, but also for patients suffering from bone diseases or fractures during ageing and immobilisation on our planet.


NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy performed his first in-space session of the Myotones experiment that monitors his muscle tone, stiffness and elasticity. A non-invasive device measured his back, shoulders, arms and legs – areas known to be affected by atrophy during extended inactivity periods.

Results will be compared with measurements before and after his spaceflight. Chris is one 12 astronauts to take part in this experiment that could improve the lives of many people affected by strained muscles with new strategies for rehabilitation treatments.

Related links:

Transparent Alloys:

Foam-Coarsening experiment:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/E-USOC/Cadmos.


jeudi 7 mai 2020

Telescopes and Spacecraft Join Forces to Probe Deep into Jupiter's Atmosphere

NASA - JUNO Mission logo / NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 7, 2020

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based Gemini Observatory in Hawaii have teamed up with the Juno spacecraft to probe the mightiest storms in the solar system, taking place more than 500 million miles away on the giant planet Jupiter.

A team of researchers led by Michael Wong at the University of California, Berkeley, and including Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Imke de Pater also of UC Berkeley, are combining multiwavelength observations from Hubble and Gemini with close-up views from Juno's orbit about the monster planet, gaining new insights into turbulent weather on this distant world.

"We want to know how Jupiter's atmosphere works," said Wong. This is where the teamwork of Juno, Hubble and Gemini comes into play.

Radio 'Light Show'

Jupiter's constant storms are gigantic compared to those on Earth, with thunderheads reaching 40 miles from base to top — five times taller than typical thunderheads on Earth — and powerful lightning flashes up to three times more energetic than Earth's largest "superbolts."

Like lightning on Earth, Jupiter's lightning bolts act like radio transmitters, sending out radio waves as well as visible light when they flash across the sky.

Every 53 days, Juno races low over the storm systems detecting radio signals known as "sferics" and "whistlers," which can then be used to map lightning even on the day side of the planet or from deep clouds where flashes are not otherwise visible.

Coinciding with each pass, Hubble and Gemini watch from afar, capturing high-resolution global views of the planet that are key to interpreting Juno's close-up observations. "Juno's microwave radiometer probes deep into the planet's atmosphere by detecting high-frequency radio waves that can penetrate through the thick cloud layers. The data from Hubble and Gemini can tell us how thick the clouds are and how deep we are seeing into the clouds," Simon explained.

By mapping lightning flashes detected by Juno onto optical images captured of the planet by Hubble and thermal infrared images captured at the same time by Gemini, the research team has been able to show that lightning outbreaks are associated with a three-way combination of cloud structures: deep clouds made of water, large convective towers caused by upwelling of moist air — essentially Jovian thunderheads — and clear regions presumably caused by downwelling of drier air outside the convective towers.

The Hubble data show the height of the thick clouds in the convective towers, as well as the depth of deep water clouds. The Gemini data clearly reveal the clearings in the high-level clouds where it is possible to get a glimpse down to the deep water clouds.

Image above: This graphic shows observations and interpretations of cloud structures and atmospheric circulation on Jupiter from the Juno spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Observatory. By combining the Juno, Hubble and Gemini data, researchers are able to see that lightning flashes are clustered in turbulent regions where there are deep water clouds and where moist air is rising to form tall convective towers similar to cumulonimbus clouds (thunderheads) on Earth. The bottom illustration of lightning, convective towers, deep water clouds and clearings in Jupiter's atmosphere is based on data from Juno, Hubble and Gemini, and corresponds to the transect (angled white line) indicated on the Hubble and Gemini map details. The combination of observations can be used to map the cloud structure in three dimensions and infer details of atmospheric circulation. Thick, towering clouds form where moist air is rising (upwelling and active convection). Clearings form where drier air sinks (downwelling). The clouds shown rise five times higher than similar convective towers in the relatively shallow atmosphere of Earth. The region illustrated covers a horizontal span one-third greater than that of the continental United States. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley), A. James and M.W. Carruthers (STScI), and S. Brown (JPL).

Wong thinks that lightning is common in a type of turbulent area known as folded filamentary regions, which suggests that moist convection is occurring in them. "These cyclonic vortices could be internal energy smokestacks, helping release internal energy through convection," he said. "It doesn't happen everywhere, but something about these cyclones seems to facilitate convection."

The ability to correlate lightning with deep water clouds also gives researchers another tool for estimating the amount of water in Jupiter's atmosphere, which is important for understanding how Jupiter and the other gas and ice giants formed, and therefore how the solar system as a whole formed.

While much has been gleaned about Jupiter from previous space missions, many of the details — including how much water is in the deep atmosphere, exactly how heat flows from the interior and what causes certain colors and patterns in the clouds — remain a mystery. The combined result provides insight into the dynamics and three-dimensional structure of the atmosphere.

Seeing a 'Jack-O-Lantern' Red Spot

With Hubble and Gemini observing Jupiter more frequently during the Juno mission, scientists are also able to study short-term changes and short-lived features like those in the Great Red Spot.

Images from Juno as well as previous missions to Jupiter revealed dark features within the Great Red Spot that appear, disappear and change shape over time. It was not clear from individual images whether these are caused by some mysterious dark-colored material within the high cloud layer, or if they are instead holes in the high clouds — windows into a deeper, darker layer below.

Now, with the ability to compare visible-light images from Hubble with thermal infrared images from Gemini captured within hours of each other, it is possible to answer the question. Regions that are dark in visible light are very bright in infrared, indicating that they are, in fact, holes in the cloud layer. In cloud-free regions, heat from Jupiter's interior that is emitted in the form of infrared light — otherwise blocked by high-level clouds — is free to escape into space and therefore appears bright in Gemini images.

"It's kind of like a jack-o-lantern," said Wong. "You see bright infrared light coming from cloud-free areas, but where there are clouds, it's really dark in the infrared."

Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and team

The above images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot were made using data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Observatory on April 1, 2018. By combining observations captured at almost the same time from the two different observatories, astronomers were able to determine that dark features on the Great Red Spot are holes in the clouds rather than masses of dark material.

Upper left (wide view) and lower left (detail): The Hubble image of sunlight (visible wavelengths) reflecting off clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere shows dark features within the Great Red Spot.

Upper right: A thermal infrared image of the same area from Gemini shows heat emitted as infrared energy. Cool overlying clouds appear as dark regions, but clearings in the clouds allow bright infrared emission to escape from warmer layers below.

Lower middle: An ultraviolet image from Hubble shows sunlight scattered back from the hazes over the Great Red Spot. The Great Red Spot appears red in visible light because these hazes absorb blue wavelengths. The Hubble data show that the hazes continue to absorb even at shorter ultraviolet wavelengths.

Lower right: A multiwavelength composite of Hubble and Gemini data shows visible light in blue and thermal infrared in red. The combined observations show that areas that are bright in infrared are clearings or places where there is less cloud cover blocking heat from the interior.

The Hubble and Gemini observations were made to provide a wide-view context for Juno’s 12th pass (Perijove 12).

Hubble and Gemini as Jovian Weather Trackers

The regular imaging of Jupiter by Hubble and Gemini in support of the Juno mission is proving valuable in studies of many other weather phenomena as well, including changes in wind patterns, characteristics of atmospheric waves and the circulation of various gases in the atmosphere.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

Hubble and Gemini can monitor the planet as a whole, providing real-time base maps in multiple wavelengths for reference for Juno's measurements in the same way that Earth-observing weather satellites provide context for NOAA's high-flying Hurricane Hunters.

"Because we now routinely have these high-resolution views from a couple of different observatories and wavelengths, we are learning so much more about Jupiter's weather," explained Simon. "This is our equivalent of a weather satellite. We can finally start looking at weather cycles."

Because the Hubble and Gemini observations are so important for interpreting Juno data, Wong and his colleagues Simon and de Pater are making all of the processed data easily accessible to other researchers through the Mikulski Archives for Space Telescopes (MAST) at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Animation Credit: NASA

"What's important is that we've managed to collect this huge data set that supports the Juno mission. There are so many applications of the data set that we may not even anticipate. So, we're going to enable other people to do science without that barrier of having to figure out on their own how to process the data," Wong said.

The results were published in April 2020 in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in Washington, D.C. AURA operates the Gemini Observatory for the international Gemini partnership including the U.S., Canada, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and the Republic of Korea. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Related links:

Mikulski Archives for Space Telescopes (MAST):

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):


Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Amy Simon/Claire Andreoli/STSI/Margaret W. Carruthers/Ray Villard.


China’s new crewed spacecraft mission success

CASC -  China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

May 7, 2020

China’s new-generation crewed spacecraft successfully completed orbital maneuvers, autonomously adjusting its orbit six times.

China’s new crewed spacecraft in orbit

The New-generation crewed spacecraft (CMS) was launched without a crew on a test mission by the first Long March-5B launch vehicle from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, Wenchang, Hainan Province, China, on 5 May 2020, at 10:00 UTC (18:00 local time). Read related article for more informations.

New-generation crewed spacecraft (CMS), crew capsule separation

CMS is designed to be reusable, its landing is parachute-assisted and airbag-cushioned.

China’s new crewed spacecraft lands successfully

Video above: China’s new-generation crewed spacecraft successfully landed at the Dongfeng landing site, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, on 8 May 2020, at 05:49 UTC (13:49 local time). The spacecraft, without a crew on board, entered the return trajectory at 04:21 UTC, the service module was separated at 05:33 UTC and the capsule landed safely at 05:49 UTC (13:49 local time).

Related article:

China launched a rocket with a spaceship

Related links:

China National Space Administration (CNSA):

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Image, Videos, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Crew Preps for U.S. and Japanese Cargo Missions

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

May 7, 2020

The Expedition 63 crew will monitor the departure of an American resupply ship on Monday and welcome a Japanese cargo craft when it arrives two weeks later. Meanwhile, the three International Space Station residents are configuring the orbital lab for the spaceship activities and continuing microgravity science.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is nearing the end of its stay attached to the Unity module. Robotics controllers on the ground will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach Cygnus from Unity then release the U.S. cargo craft on Monday noon EDT. NASA Commander Chris Cassidy will finalize the installation of the SlingShot small satellite deployer on Cygnus’ hatch on Sunday.

Image above: The U.S. Cygnus cargo craft (left) from the United States departs the station on Monday. The H-II Transfer Vehicle (right) from Japan arrives at the station on April 25.  Image Credit: NASA.

NASA TV will begin its live broadcast of Cygnus’ release and departure at 11:45 a.m. on Monday. Cygnus will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere over the south Pacific for a safe, but fiery destruction at the end of the month.

Japan is targeting May 20 for the launch of its ninth station cargo mission aboard the H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) resupply ship. The HTV-9 will launch from the Tanegashima Space Center and a take five-day trip to the orbital lab. It will be captured with the Canadarm2 and installed to the Harmony module for a two-month stay.

Image aboe: Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo craft approaches the International Space Station delivering about 7,500 pounds of research and supplies to the Expedition 62 crew. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan would command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture Cygnus after a two-and-half-day trip that began with a launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Commander Chris Cassidy is setting up HTV-9 communications gear today inside the Kibo laboratory module from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The Proximity Communication Systems (PROX) sends and receives spacecraft location and speed data during approach and rendezvous operations.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The two cosmonauts continued their set of maintenance and science duties today over in the station’s Russian segment. Anatoly Ivanishin picked up a camera for more photo inspections in the Pirs and Poisk modules. The veteran cosmonaut then serviced power tools and life support gear. Ivan Vagner started his day cleaning vents and filters. In the afternoon, Vagner photographed the effects of Earth catastrophes and studied ways to improve the identification and location while picturing targets on the ground.

Related article:

NASA TV to Air Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Departure from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 63:


Unity module:



H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9):

Harmony module:

Kibo laboratory module:



Effects of Earth catastrophes:

Identification and location:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

The cost of space debris

ESA - Clean Space logo.

May 7, 2020

Distribution of space debris around Earth

With hundreds of satellites launched every year, in-space collisions and the creation of fast-moving fragments of space debris – or ‘space junk’ - are becoming increasingly likely, threatening our continued human and technological presence in space.

The Organisation for Econonic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published its first report on the economic cost of space debris. Using research from numerous sources, including data and analysis from ESA’s Space Debris Office, it outlines the dangers ahead if we do not act, and what can be done to ensure our future in space.

Here, we summarise the key findings of the report and explain how ESA is helping to address the problem through its Space Safety Programme.

A growing problem

“Economic and societal vulnerabilities to space hazards, in particular space debris, are growing.” – Space Sustainability: The Economics of Space Debris in Perspective from the OECD, 2020.

ESA 2019 report on space debris - evolution in all orbits

Graphic above: Table showing evolving number of debris objects across all orbits, where colours relate to different sources of debris.

UI - Unidentified
RM - Rocket Mission Related Object
RD - Rocket Debris; RF - Rocket Fragmentation Debris
RB - Rocket Body
PM - Payload Mission Related Object
PD - Payload Debris
PF - Payload Fragmentation Debris
PL - Payload

The institutional and commercial use of space is growing, and at an increasing rate. The number of satellites in orbit will further increase with the launch of ‘mega-constellations’ for satellite broadband, some comprising thousands of satellites, and with that the risk of collisions and more space debris increases.

Just one collision or explosion in space creates thousands of fast-moving small shards of debris able to damage or destroy a functioning satellite. For example, in 2007, the destruction of the FengYun-1C satellite doubled the amount of debris at an altitude of about 800 km, leading to a 30% increase in the total population of debris at that time.

Space debris is expensive, and will become even more so

On the costs of space debris, the report states that “Space debris protection and mitigation measures are already costly to satellite operators, but the main risks and costs lie in the future, if the generation of debris spins out of control and renders certain orbits unusable for human activities.”

Hypervelocity Impact

Protecting satellites from space debris is expensive, beginning with design measures, the need for surveillance and tracking, moving operational satellites out of harm’s way and even replacing missions altogether.

For satellites in geostationary orbit, the OECD reports that such costs amount to an estimated 5–10% of the total mission costs which could be hundreds of millions of dollars. In low Earth orbits, the relative costs per mission could be even higher than 5–10%.

However, the cost of inaction would be far greater. Enough debris in orbit could ultimately lead to the ‘Kessler syndrome’ in which collisions cascade, leading to more and more self-generating collisions, and what the OECD describes as “an ecological tipping point that may render certain orbits unusable.”

Economies and societies are increasingly vulnerable to effects of debris

Reducing debris creation

The socio-economic impacts of the Kessler syndrome would be severe. Important space applications could be lost, such as weather forecasting, climate monitoring, earth sciences and space-based communications. The inability to use certain orbits would have wide-reaching and significant consequences. According to the report, these would include:

- Unique applications and functionalities may be lost (internet and communication services for example)

- Lives lost

- Interrupted time series for earth science and climate research

- Increased crowding and pressures on other orbits

- Curbed economic growth and slowdown in investments in the sector

Specifically, the report states that “certain geographic areas and social groups would be disproportionally affected, in particular in rural areas with limited existing ground infrastructures and large reliance on space infrastructure.”

We are not doing enough
Distribution of space debris in orbit around Earth

According to the report, “comprehensive national and international mitigation measures exist, but compliance is insufficient to stabilise the orbital environment.”

Current debris mitigation guidelines for operators flying satellites at low-Earth and geostationary orbits include, among others:

- avoid intentional generation of debris (including anti-satellite tests)

- minimisation of potential for accidental explosions

- a 25-year deorbit rule for missions in low-Earth orbit

- missions in geostationary orbit should be sent to higher ‘graveyard orbit’ at the end of their lives, keeping out of the way of functioning satellites

- collision avoidance should take place when feasible, as well as the minimisation of casualty risk on ground from satellite re-entries

As summarised in ESA’s latest space debris environment report, most operators of satellites in geostationary orbit comply to these guidelines, but less than 60% of those flying in low-Earth orbit adhere (and only 20% in orbits above 650 km). Several countries have also conducted anti-satellite tests over the years.

ESA’s Space Safety programme – Europe’s response

The Space Debris Office is dedicated to protecting missions in flight today as well as ensuring a sustainable future for spaceflight. Every day, teams at ESOC mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, monitor and assess the likelihood of potential collisions in orbit and guide operators on how to keep their missions safe.

As more satellites are launched into orbit, current ‘manual’ methods for avoiding in-space collisions, and the creation of debris will not be enough. As such, ESA, through the Space Safety Programme, is developing ‘automated collision avoidance’ technologies that will make the process of avoiding collisions more efficient.

Predicted conjunction between Aeolus and Starlink 44

By assessing the risk and likelihood of in-space collisions, this software will improve the decision making process on whether a manoeuvre is needed, and may even send the orders to at-risk satellites to get out of the way.

But what about the junk that’s already in orbit? In a world first, the Space Safety programme has commissioned a mission that will remove an item of debris from orbit.

The ClearSpace-1 mission will target a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) upper stage left in orbit after the second flight of ESA’s Vega launcher back in 2013.

ClearSpace-1 with captured Vespa

With a mass of 100 kg, the Vespa is close in size to a small satellite, while its relatively simple shape and sturdy construction make it a suitable first goal. This first step will establish a commercial service that can also address larger, more challenging 'captures', eventually including multi-object capture.

Collision avoidance and debris removal are vital to reducing the amount of debris in space, but compliance with the debris mitigation guidelines outlined above has the greatest impact on our space environment. ESA’s Space Debris Office monitors compliance around the globe, and along with the Clean Space Office is working to increase global compliance through operations and technology advancements.

Find out more in the OECD report and on ESA’s Space Debris website:

Space Debris:

OECD report:

Related links:

ClearSpace-1 mission:

Automated collision avoidance:


Space Safety Programme:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images, Animations, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ClearSpace.

Best regards,

mercredi 6 mai 2020

ASACUSA researchers create and study new exotic atom at PSI

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

6 May, 2020

Further studies could be used to test the Standard Model of particle physics

Image above: Creation of a pionic helium atom: a pion replaces one of the two electrons in a normal helium atom to form pionic helium. A resonant laser then induces a quantum jump of the pion from one orbit of the pionic helium atom to another. This leads to nuclear break-up which permits direct detection of the pionic helium atom. (Image: Diagram by the ASACUSA collaboration of CERN).

A team of researchers from the ASACUSA collaboration have taken experimental equipment from CERN to the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) near Zurich to create a theoretically predicted but never before verified exotic atom and made first measurements of how it absorbs and resonates with light. The results, published today in the journal Nature, mark the first time such spectroscopic measurements have been made on an exotic atom containing a meson, a particle consisting of two fundamental particles called quarks.

Replace an electron in an atom with a heavy, negatively charged particle, and you get a so-called exotic atom. Such atoms usually have very short lifetimes, and they provide excellent tools for studying the properties of the replacement particle and to search for physics phenomena not predicted by the Standard Model.

“Spectroscopic measurements of exotic atoms containing mesons could be used to determine with high precision the mass and other properties of the constituent mesons, as well as to place limits on possible new forces involving mesons,” says ASACUSA co-spokesperson Masaki Hori. “For the meson used in this study, one of the lightest mesons, we might eventually be able to determine its mass with a precision of less than about one part in a hundred million. That would be 100 times more precise than has been achieved so far, and would allow a precise comparison with the Standard Model prediction to be made.”

The new atom verified by the experiment consists of a nucleus from an isotope of helium (helium-4), an electron and a negatively charged pion in a high-lying energy state. Its lifetime is more than a thousand times longer than any other atom containing a pion. To make such atoms, the team took negatively charged pions provided by PSI’s 590 MeV ring cyclotron facility – the world’s most intense source of such pions – and focused them using a magnet into a target containing superfluid helium (superfluids are fluids that flow without any resistance). Both the target and the magnet were made at CERN and brought to PSI for this study.

Next, to confirm that the atoms had indeed been created and to study how they absorb and resonate with light, the researchers fired laser light of various frequencies at the target and searched for instances in which the pions made a quantum jump between different energy levels of their host atoms.

Image above: Experimental apparatus used to synthesise pionic helium atoms at the Paul Scherrer Institute (Image: Masaki Hori / ASACUSA collaboration).

After some trial and error playing with different laser frequencies, the researchers were able to identify a specific jump. This jump was predicted to result in the absorption of the pion by the helium nucleus and the subsequent breaking of the latter into a proton, a neutron and a composite particle made up of a proton and a neutron. The researchers detected these fragments using an array of particle detectors that was also made at CERN and brought to PSI, thereby confirming that the pions had indeed made the jump.

Next on the researchers’ agenda is to improve the precision with which the jump was identified and to search for other jumps, with the view to using them to measure the mass of the pions and test the Standard Model.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related links:


Standard Model:

For more information about the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: CERN.

Best regards,

Astronauts Leave “Microbial Fingerprint” on Space Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 6, 2020

When a new crew member arrives on the International Space Station, the population of humans living in space changes – of course. But so, too, does the population of microbes. Countless types of microorganisms inhabit our bodies, inside and out, and when an astronaut arrives on the station, they bring their specific collection of microbial "hitchhikers” with them. A new study shows that the microorganisms living on surfaces inside the space station so closely resembled those on an astronaut’s skin that scientists could tell when this new crew member arrived and departed, just by looking at the microbes left behind. The findings show how keeping an eye on the tiniest space station residents will be important for protecting the health of astronauts and the spacecraft they occupy. It could even tell us something about relatively closed environments on Earth, like hospitals, where understanding the presence of microbes is key.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Jack Fischer collects an environmental sample from the ceiling of the International Space Station in 2017 for the Microbial Tracking-2 study. Animation Credit: NASA.

Many of the microorganisms living in and around us are harmless or even essential for good health, but some can cause disease or damage structures in built environments. This is why NASA has been following the space station’s population of microbes with a series of experiments called Microbial Tracking. These studies, managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and funded by NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications division at NASA Headquarters, allow researchers to learn how the micro-inhabitants of the space station change across locations and over time.

“There’s an interplay between the microbial community of the space station and its crew, and understanding the details is important for preventing complications for health or for spacecraft on long-term human space missions,” said Crystal Jaing, a biologist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, and principal investigator of the Microbial Tracking-2 study. The results of MT-2 appeared April 29 in the journal PLOS One.

Sampling the Body and the Space Station

One astronaut took part in this research by providing personal microbiome samples before, during and after the spaceflight. A microbiome is a community of different microbes living together. Using a polyester swab, the individual swabbed areas of the skin, ear, mouth, nostril and saliva. To understand if the crew microbiome interacted with the space station environment, samples were also taken from eight different locations aboard the space station, such as the dining table, the toilet and the crew quarters. These were collected during the crew member’s own flight and the one following their departure.

Image above: A section of the Microbiome swab kit containing Microbiome samples from various physical surfaces is shown prior to being stowed for return to Earth. The Microbiome experiment studied the impact of space travel on both the human immune system and an individual’s microbiome (the collection of microbes that live in and on the human body at any given time). Image Credit: NASA.

Back on Earth, the samples were processed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, before analysis at LLNL to compare the microbiome of the space station environment and the microbiome of the astronaut. For the first time in this type of study, the researchers used a sophisticated technique, called shotgun metagenomic sequencing, to explore every bit of DNA found in the samples.

A Microbial Calendar

Of all the body areas sampled, the populations in the environmental surface samples most closely resembled those found on the skin. In all, the astronaut’s microbiome contributed to 55% of the surface microbiome found during the individual's flight, the data showed. This person’s microbiome also lingered; it appeared – to a lesser degree – in the surface samples taken four months after that crew member left the space station.

“From the microbe data alone, we could tell when the new person arrived and departed,” said David J. Smith, a research scientist at Ames and co-author of the study. “We’re used to measuring the passage of time with calendars, but the microbiome transitions essentially tell the same story in this study.”

Animation above: The foldable Microbiome swab kit containing Microbiome samples is shown prior to being stowed in space. Animation Credit: NASA.

The astronaut’s saliva samples turned up other interesting results. NASA has used saliva before to study the immune system and health conditions in astronauts, but this study is the first to use metagenomic sequencing to look in depth at the changes to the saliva microbiome due to spaceflight. The diversity of species found there decreased in space and rebounded after the person’s return to Earth. Some of the species affected are considered potentially disease-causing, and the researchers think saliva samples could become a useful way to monitor crew health.

Indoor Microbes and Human Health on Earth

More data collected from additional crew members will help confirm the trends seen in this study, but the Microbial Tracking research already shows the importance of studying and monitoring microorganisms aboard the space station. Future studies could dig further into the genetic material of the microbiome to understand which microbial genes most influence the relationship between crew and the microbes around them – and how this could affect their health. Knowing which groups of microorganisms are more or less abundant at certain times or in certain places could one day form the basis for tests able to predict health problems and head them off.

Astronaut health is currently protected through routine monitoring of microbes on the space station, along with good astronaut nutrition and appropriate exercise as well as good personal and space station sanitation processes.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The International Space Station provides a unique environment for studying these topics and could shed light on other contexts where indoor spaces and human health overlap. As an orbiting “building” in space, the space station is perfectly suited to studying the arrival, circulation and transmission of microorganisms. So, understanding better the interactions between astronauts and microbes could even benefit people in relatively closed habitats on Earth – whether in our homes or hospitals, or aboard aircraft, subways or even submarines.

Although this study used samples returned from space, NASA has the ability to identify microbes in real time aboard the space station and is planning real-time microbial monitoring on future spacecraft as well.

The Microbial Tracking-2 findings are further confirmed by the work done on the Microbiome investigation. That study’s findings were published in 2019 and described in a related article:

Identify microbes in real time:

Microbial Tracking-2:

Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications:

Humans in Space:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Abigail Tabor.

Greetings, Orbiter,ch